Friday, June 23, 2017

This morning I will try to figure out what to pack for the Frost Place (impossible) and this afternoon I will drive there. Google-Ann insists that Portland is only 2-1/2 hours from Franconia, which is hard to believe. The drive from Harmony took 4 hours, and I have that length of time stuck in my geographical consciousness.

So today's life will be a new drive, new scenery, a new associate director, but the same old bear bumbling among the lupines. As usual, I may or may not have time to write to you this week; and even if I do, you won't be hearing from me in the mornings. Those are the times of insanity . . . trying to deal with coffee-urn mishaps, trying to find the spare rolls of toilet paper, trying to chase the bird out of the barn. . . . Mid-afternoon is the siesta time, when all toilet-paper problems are handled by the museum docent and I can lie in my stuffy little Frost-child bedroom peacefully listening to tourists clump up and down the stairs.

I almost forgot to update you on last night's adventure, my first-ever writers' group, which was a rousing success. We did have a good time together, and the place we met was comic--a sort of pseudo-Algonquin hotel bar, populated by bald men in polo shirts, and a furtive waitress who, after showing us the specials' menu, whispered, "I wouldn't order the soup. It tastes strange."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I woke up this morning to a flurry of Frost Place emails--all good, all good--and the forecast is filled with mist and rain, per usual, and my friend Ruth tells me there's rumored to be a 300-pound bear roaming the homestead, and my friend Andrea sends her best wishes and hopes that no mice fall on any participants this year, and I am frantically gathering poems and paperwork and trying to figure out how to drive from Portland to Franconia, which I have never done before, and in the meantime, the beautiful week awaits.

So today is haircut day, and also finishing my syllabus for July's environmental writing seminar, and checking my violin strings, and answering more Frost Place emails and phone calls, and reading some prose manuscripts in preparation for my first-ever venture into a writing group this evening. I am nervous about this writing group, for no good reason, given that it's composed of only two other people, both of whom I like and respect. And I would like to have less of a head cold. But the Fates say no.

However, you will probably be pleased to learn that I overheard someone on the street ask a friend, "How do you get the smell of patchouli out of an apartment?"

Some mysteries cannot be solved.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rain and thunderstorms are forecast for today, and already I feel the portents of a heavy wet heat. The arugula seeds I planted three days ago are sprouting. Our local male cardinal is whisking among the locust trees, and sodden joggers amble down the sidewalk.

We looked at more houses yesterday, and I am feeling pessimistic about ever finding anything that suits us . . . or, more properly, suits Tom because he is way fussier than I am. Maybe he will find something while I am at the Frost Place, and I will come home to discover that the shopping ordeal is over. That would be the best-case scenario for me. But I doubt it will happen.

Monday, June 19, 2017

My parents drove home yesterday, and I instantly came down with a sore throat and had to take two naps. On the bright side, I did get a call from my younger son, who was bubbling over with joy: the administrators of the camp where he works have assigned him to a trip to Hudson Bay. So he'll spend 6 weeks canoeing up the Winisk River into Polar Bear Provincial Park. I am trying not to worry too much about those polar bears. But what a trip! . . . into the tundra, among the tiny Cree settlements. "And I even get paid!" he crowed.

Here's how the Ontario Park Service describes the park:
Remote, and accessible only by air, Ontario’s largest and most northerly park features unspoiled low-lying tundra. Sub-arctic conditions prevail in the park, which is the domain of woodland caribou, moose, marten, fox, beaver, goose, black bear, and polar bear. Seals, walruses, beluga and white whales frequent coastal and esturial areas. As many as 200 polar bears lumber through coastal areas at certain times. The peak period is early November. In late spring, hundreds of species of bird descend upon the region. White geese can be seen rising gracefully above the sear barren. Until roughly 4000 years ago, the mid-Silurian limestone bedrock (450 million years old) here was submerged beneath the Tyrrell Sea, a massive body of water that has retreated into the present Hudson and James Bays. Postglacial gravels and sands are overlain by a layer of sedimentary clay. The land is basically flat with a few inland ridges that indicate the location of former shorelines. It tends to flood when the ice breaks up in late spring. No longer oppressed by the weight of mega-glaciers, the land is slowly rising at a rate estimated at 1.2 m per century. Caribou lichen, reindeer and sphagnum moss grow along the tundra. This is considered the most temperately located mainland tundra in the world. The simple plant cover decomposes into the uppermost layers of the peat soils, bogs, and muskeg that carpet the terrain, much of which is given to permafrost. The treeline encircles the bays like a necklace. North of this invisible limit, no trees grow. South of the line, stunted willow, spruce and tamarack masquerade as scrub, gradually rising in height, with distance travelled south. Lapland rhododendron, crowberry, and mountain cranberry also flourish here. In early summer, the tundra becomes an exquisite heath of plants in delirious bloom. Adding to the spectacle, the many ponds that dot the landscape turn rust, yellow, green, turquoise, black, ivory, brown, and other colours, depending on the plant micro-organisms and minerals in the water. Archeologists have determined that Algonquian people lived here perhaps 1000 years ago. Their descendents are the present-day Cree who reside in the coastal settlement of Winisk. 
Park Facilities and Activities: There are no visitors’ facilities. Landing permits must be obtained in advance for each of the park’s four airstrips. The only evidence of human habitation in the park is an abandoned radar station, part of a former military defence line. It consists of squat metal buildings, oil tanks, radio towers, and a few radar dishes and a landing airstrip. Visitors to Polar Bear should be prepared for any eventuality. They should bring at least one week’s extra supplies in case their departure is delayed due to bad weather. Tents should not rise any higher than necessary, due to the possibility of strong winds. 
Location: On the western shore of Hudson Bay, above James Bay, in the far northern area of the province.
"Visitors to Polar Bear should be prepared for any eventuality." Those are not words to calm a mother's nerves. Nonetheless, I kind of wish I could go too. I'm quite taken with the idea that, "in early summer, the tundra becomes an exquisite heath of plants in delirious bloom. Adding to the spectacle, the many ponds that dot the landscape turn rust, yellow, green, turquoise, black, ivory, brown, and other colours, depending on the plant micro-organisms and minerals in the water." I can't even imagine that water.

The Cree settlement Peawanuck, at the edge of the park. That's a Catholic church in the teepee,
and those are the Northern Lights behind it.




Sunday, June 18, 2017

Yesterday Tom and I took my parents on a 3-hour mailboat ride among the Casco Bay islands. And then in the evening they all came to my reading in Westbrook. I think it went well; I hope it went well. One never knows what will happen with a voice.

And now I enter the downward rush to the Frost Place. This will be a week of frantic editing, and frantic paperwork, and frantic buying of toothpaste and face cream, and frantic making sure I'm leaving Tom with enough catfood/toilet paper/bread/clean underwear, which is stupid because the man is perfectly capable of shopping and doing his laundry. But stupid is one of my character traits.

At the Frost Place I know for sure we will have 21 participants, 3 guest faculty members, 2 staff faculty members, 2 office staff members, 1 teaching fellow, and 1 groundhog. The remaining visitors are unknown, though I suspect that several will be ticks and one will be the lawnmower guy who every year drowns out a presentation and has to be chased off the premises. One year we had a phone call from a man who claimed to be the uncle of the next Yeats. But the next Yeats never showed up, though we kept an eye out for him.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Yesterday my parents and I spent the day at Winslow Homer's studio at Prout's Neck, then wandered through the Portland Museum's American art collection, and eventually met up with Tom for dinner. Today, if the fog lifts, the four of us will go on a ferry ride among the Casco Bay islands, and afterward we'll make fish chowder and drive out to my poetry reading in Westbrook (Lowry's Lodge Poetry Series, at the Continuum for Creativity, 863 Main Street).

Thus, at this moment, I am drinking black coffee and preparing to sort through poems. I'll be reading a mix of pieces from my two manuscripts, Chestnut Ridge and Songs about Women and Men, and I suspect that my co-reader, Adrian Blevins, will be also be sharing some of her Appalachian-based work. It will be a mountain evening.

Friday, June 16, 2017

From Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect. Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle. Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.

* * *

From "Iraq," by a high school senior and recent immigrant

Always when I think about my country I imagine war
or the destroyed places.
Not only the picture, the feeling too.
When I think about war and what happened it makes
strange feelings inside me--
fear, weakness, and it hurts
at the same time.
Because I was born with war and the destroyed places,
and with different religions fighting about nothing important.
It's really hard to have this feeling.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

I have another poem featured today at Vox Populi.

Many of the images/phrases in this poem were triggered by mug shots released by the Somerset County Sheriff's Office--specifically, the slogans on the t-shirts in those photos. It was also triggered by Blake's long poem "America: A Prophecy," though an editorial change makes that less clear. My original version spells the final noun "New-England," an attempt to maintain a Blakean echo. I'm going to ask the editor to reinsert the hyphen, but till then you will have to imagine it for yourself.

Update: The hyphen is back! And now that you've seen both versions, which way do you prefer it?


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A male cardinal been visiting the locust tree next to my bedroom window. I have not seen his mate, so I presume she is nesting somewhere nearby. But he is out and about, whistling and preening and cocking his scarlet head.

In Harmony I rarely saw cardinals, though we did have plenty of color in the summertime--purple finches, goldfinches, rose-breasted grosbeaks, an occasional indigo bunting. We did not have any locust trees, and I am learning to love this one beside the window--all feathery foliage and delicate sweep. The cardinal looks extremely handsome in its dappled shade.

Finally the heat has broken. The air is dry and cool. A small breeze rocks the locust tree. I hear a mockingbird singing. The people on the sidewalks are running or walking or dawdling. The cars are spinning down the highways. The dogs are rolling in the dew.

A tiny vase of yellow pansies sits on my kitchen table. I grew them myself, in my tiny deck garden. That is better than no harvest at all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Yesterday's house viewings: One decaying bungalow that needs to be stripped down to the studs and completely reconstructed. (No.) One teeny-tiny cape heavily scented with Glade, decorated with American flags, warrened with bizarre add-ons (e.g., a washer-dryer closet cut into the garage), and no visible way to access the furnace. (No.) 

This evening we get a day off from house shopping. Instead, I'm going to drive to my yoga class because I don't think I can walk four miles round trip in 90-degree heat and also manage to stay alive during the class. For some reason, this weather has squelched me. I wonder if there's some kind of coastal ozone thing that's making me limper than usual. Fortunately, after today the heat is supposed to break, and by the weekend we'll return to regular old Maine dampness.

On Saturday evening I'll be reading with Adrian Blevins in the Lowry's Lodge Poetry Series, 7 p.m., at the Continuum for Creativity on Main Street in Westbrook. Adrian is a creative writing professor at Colby and she's originally from Appalachian Virginia. So expect some mountain poems from both of us. You'll also get a chance to lay eyes on my parents, who will be visiting us over the weekend. I tried to convince them to do something more interesting than attend my reading, but they insisted.

Today: more editing, more ice tea, more torpid cats, more exhausted husbands, more dinners at 8:30 p.m. to avoid heating up the doll-house. More small winds, like blessings.
Summer Wind 
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) 
It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven–
Their bases on the mountains–their white tops
Shining in the far ether–fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer’s eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays his coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sorry I didn't write to you yesterday. We had company in the morning, and then we went to look at a house, and then we went for a walk into town and I about died from the 90-degree heat and had to lie on the couch in front of the fan to recover. And then I made spring rolls with shrimp and fresh lettuce. And then I went to bed and attempted to sleep, and eventually I sort of did.

Today looks to be more of the same, except worse, because poor Tom will have to build things in the 90-degree heat. It will not be a good day to be a laborer.

Meanwhile, I will edit a manuscript and pull things together early for a cold supper late. We are going out to look at a couple of other houses this evening. Undoubtedly it will be another exercise in futility. It is difficult to feel optimistic about house shopping, given last fall's debacles. On the other hand, it is fun to look at other people's stuff. For instance, in yesterday's house we saw a record titled How to Teach Your Parrot to Speak.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

We slept with the windows wide open, we woke up late, we drank coffee in bed and perused real estate listings, and now we are upright, watching the sun shadows and the dog walkers, trying to unplug the bathroom drain, and looking forward to the arrival of our weekend guest. Today will be warm, tomorrow will be warmer, and perhaps it is not silly to imagine that summer will visit Maine after all. Yesterday I purloined a tiny spray of beach roses from the park, and today I'm only slightly too cold in this sundress I'm wearing. I could make ice tea this morning, or ceviche, or strawberries and cream! But instead I'll focus on vacuuming the cat fur off the guest bed, meanwhile hoping the relatives of the large weird bug I killed don't show up in the bathtub looking for him. I am not especially squeamish, but that large weird bug had an awful lot of legs. Maybe if I'd been wearing my glasses, he would have looked less monstrous. But what's done is done.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Okay, I'm quite irritated with the mainstream media at the moment, and my irritation centers around the way in which reporters and editors continue to use the word leak when they discuss James Comey's shared memos about his meetings with the so-called president. Sure, the so-called president doesn't look good in those memos (when does he ever?), but the thing is: a private citizen can share unclassified information with a friend. That's not leaking. Like, say, right now, friends, I'm going to share the information that Tom said, "See ya," and kissed me good-bye this morning before he left for work. Tom, not being a treasonous bastard, comes out looking pretty good in this revelation. But I still didn't ask him if I could tell you.

Ugh. Thanks for your patience in allowing me to complain.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

We made up for Tuesday's baseball washout by sitting through a doubleheader last night. The Sea Dogs played one horrible game and one mediocre game, Tom caught a glimpse of the Akron bullpen players pretending to take at-bats with a snow shovel, we decided that Slugger the mascot is likely to be called up to the majors (he does an impressive rendition of "YMCA"), and we are doubtful that extreme pogo-sticking (the between-innings entertainment) will ever catch on with audiences.

And then, after a late night at the park, I got up at 3:30 a.m. to drive Paul to the bus station, and now my brief holiday in Boy Land is over till August.

So today I will try to get some editing done, and try not to get too distracted by the Comey testimony, and try to find someplace to stow the Boy's suitcases, and try to find an interesting way to cook chicken, and try to get used to having no children again.

* * *
three people standing about
the same distance apart,
one's hand up and waving
     as he turns,
the other two wildly waving back. 
--from Len Roberts, "Our Son Leaves His Miniature Japanese Sand Garden Behind Because There Will Be No Room in the Dorm"

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Well, the game was a washout last night, but fortunately it's been rescheduled as part of a doubleheader tonight. So we'll enjoy a long baseball evening, and then at 4 a.m. tomorrow I'll haul the Boy off to the bus station so he can embark on his Canadian idyll. Until then, the doll-house will continue to be strewn with grotty tarps, sleeping bags, dry bags, duffle bags, rope, tumpline, wool socks, headlamps . . . you have the idea. A Boy needs a lot of mangy supplies in order to spend six weeks in the river wilderness.

I've started reading Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies and thus far am pleased with it. I'd been avoiding her Tudor novels, mostly because I love Ford Madox Ford's The Fifth Queen so much and I didn't want to get myself involved in anyone else's Henry VIII fiction. But I like the way she's made Cromwell a sympathetic character, whereas Ford portrayed him as a monster. And her prose details are beautiful and evocative. In a way, her style reminds me of some of Jonathan Swift's poems. Swift, to my mind, had a matchless eye for street details, and Mantel can also conjure up place with great deftness and clarity.

A Description of the Morning

            Jonathan Swift

Now hardly here and there an hackney-coach,
Appearing, showed the ruddy morn’s approach.
Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,
And softly stole to discompose her own.
The slipshod prentice from his master’s door
Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.
Now Moll had whirled her mop with dextrous airs,
Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.
The youth with broomy stumps began to trace
The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.
The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep,
Till drowned in shriller notes of chimney-sweep,
Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet,
And Brickdust Moll had screamed through half the street.
The turnkey now his flock returning sees,
Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees;
The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands;
And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The wind is spitting rain and blustering steadily from the east. On a usual day I would enjoy this weather, but now I'm hoping it will clear out quickly because the three of us have Sea Dogs tickets for tonight. It will be our first baseball game of the season, and we've all been looking forward to laying eyes on Rafael Devers, Red Sox third-baseman-of-the-future . . . or, more likely, of the soon-to-be-present, given how horrible the current Sox third baseman is.

Yesterday I started a new editing project, which turned out to include a chapter by a poet I know, and I've also been offered the chance to edit a couple of Juniper Prize-winning books later in the summer: one in poetry, one in fiction. So that will be something to look forward to.

In the interstices between editing and boy chat, I've started experimenting with bread again. Because I can't fit my baking stone into our Easy Bake Oven, I've been struggling to produce a decent loaf of sourdough. Thus, I've decided to switch to a yeast version of focaccia, and I've added an egg to the dough (for a springier texture and better keeping qualities). So far I've made one loaf with parmesan cheese in the dough and another loaf filled with chopped kalamatas. Both were topped with coarse salt, chopped fresh herbs, red-pepper flakes, and olive oil. The parmesan version was the better of the two, but only because I should have added more olives to the second one.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Yesterday, as I was cleaning the woodwork above the windows, I felt something snag at my duster--a silver, coin-sized talisman that turned out to be Catholic medal. Not being Catholic myself, I had to do some research to discover that it was a Saint Benedict medal, also known as "the devil-chasing medal."

In addition to featuring a portrait of the saint, the medal is decorated with a useful amalgam of protective Latin phrases and abbreviations as well as a Celtic cross, always handy when one needs to tap into one's pagan roots. My favorite of the abbreviated Latin phrases translates as "May the dragon never be my overlord!" I'm also fond of "Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!"

In addition to protecting me against the dragon, the medal is supposed to "destroy witchcraft and all other diabolical and haunting influences," "impart protection to persons tempted, deluded, or tormented by evil spirits," "afford protection against storms and lightning," and "serve as an efficacious remedy for bodily afflictions and a means of protection against contagious diseases." All of this seems quite useful, so I think I will hang on to it.

Hey, dragon! You're not my overlord! Drink the poison yourself!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Well, here we are again, living in Boy Land. The holiday will be fleeting as the Boy is heading off to the Canadian wilderness later this week and won't return till August. But already the fruit bowl has been sucked dry; the living room has been transformed into a staging area for online devices, couch blankets, oversized shoes, empty glasses, and a mandolin; the cat has polished up his bratty flirtations; and facts and inventions are being loudly declaimed. We are all delighted.

This morning, however, the doll-house is quiet . . . except for the exasperated cat, who is annoyed that his Boy remains firmly asleep. Tom is sitting up in bed drinking coffee and reading a book. I am at the kitchen table drinking coffee and avoiding the world's daily dose of terrible news. Fear and trembling, fear and trembling, and yet, so far, the sun continues to rise, and the unfolding beach roses nod toward the light. I don't know how to speak, but a generalized grief weights my breath and my heartbeat. Humility and humiliation. The vast and the personal. Arson and ice.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Last night a line of thunderstorms blew through, and this morning the peninsula is draped in fog. The air is wringing wet; the marshy earth is a sponge. Late yesterday afternoon a friend and I walked through the Audubon refuge in Falmouth, and in and among the field grasses I saw a field of budding peonies. This was before the storms, when the sun shone and the birds sang. But I came home with my sneakers completely sopped: every swale and dip was a delta. The soil is saturated.

Today, the car goes to the car shop, and then I go to the high school writers' shop, and then home again to pull myself together for traveling tomorrow. I'll be leaving very early, so you probably won't hear from me again till Sunday.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My poem "Hearth Song" is up at Vox Populi this morning.

* * *

It's another wet day here, but a mild one, with the temperature already in the 50s and a thick, humid drizzle stifling the air. The pansies and lettuces on the deck are basking in the dampness, and the dog-walkers are uncowed.

I finished copying out Carruth's "The Sleeping Beauty" yesterday: it turned out to fill more than 60 document pages . . . not exactly a Paradise Lost-sized project but large enough. Yet, as always after a copying project, I feel bereft. What should I work on next? I may turn to Shakespeare. I've already done the sonnets, but I could copy out an entire play. I wonder what that would be like. I think I should choose one I haven't read or seen--say, Coriolanus. But I will give myself a few days to see if something else becomes more urgent.

Today I'll be beginning a new editing project, working on curriculum for my upcoming environmental-writing seminar, and doing a lot of laundry. Tomorrow I'm spending the morning with the ELL high schoolers on a writing and photography field trip; Friday I'm departing at the tail end of night to pick up my son at college. The days plod along, scuttle along, leap-frog along; they trip over their own shoelaces; they vault into the lead and collapse into sinkholes. "Nevertheless, blindly, we _____."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

This morning I posted the following statement on my Facebook page:
I just blocked and reported for hate speech a complete stranger who decided to rant on my page about "Islam recruiting your daughters" (I don't have any daughters) as well as "What the Hell sre Muslims doing in freezing cold Maine for? How they get their/?" (spelling and grammar reproduced exactly). Why did she target me? Because I was excited about Deering High School's decision to provide sports hijabs for its female Muslim athletes. Given the hate killings that just took place in Portland, Oregon, I am feeling a fair amount of fear and anger right now. This is exactly the kind of moronic rhetoric that drives murder. And when I think about those young immigrant women and men I've worked with--starry-eyed, funny, eager, kind, goofy, and full of deep, deep feeling for home and family--I am even more sickened. This hateful woman had the temerity to refer to herself as a Christian. But listen up, you hypocrite: Jesus is on the side of kindness. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." We cannot let the monsters drive us from the paths of righteousness and love.
I think the post conveys how furious I am, but it does not reinforce how much I blame our so-called president for inciting these mud-worms. As far as I know, Trump has not said a word about that hate killing on the Portland train, let alone about the fatal bravery of the three men who stood up for the young women. Thus, as he ignores the crimes of racist white men--and the heroism of loving white men--he continues to abet sin after sin after sin.

We cannot let the monsters drive us from the paths of righteousness and love.

We cannot, we cannot, we cannot.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Yesterday, Tom and I decided to drive a few miles south to the Audubon-protected Scarborough salt marsh, the largest of its kind in the state. But when we pulled into the nature center's parking lot, we discovered a book sale: the center was trying to make a few bucks off a collection that had been willed to the Audubon Society by a local priest. In addition to many books about birds, the priest was interested in art, and Tom quickly acquired giant well-reproduced art tomes ($4 each) about Klee and Picasso as well as several good bird-painting books. He also found a set of amusing reprints of late-1920s naturalist ramblings about shore birds, and I found The Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (1968), introduced by Robert Graves. No longer will I be ignorant about the Assyro-Babylonian gods.

Eventually we did manage to go for a 5-mile walk along the Eastern Trail, a former railroad bed that cuts straight through the marsh, and we saw two kinds of egrets, several glossy ibis (hilariously misprinted as globby ibis in the Audubon handout), a pair of Wilson's warblers, and an amusing swimming cormorant. I had been hoping for harbor seals, which apparently venture into the marsh sometimes, but had to be content with birds. Plus, I found Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning Bring Up the Bodies in a little free-book hut in the parking lot. Who knew that a bird-watching excursion could result in such a book haul?

Anyway, here we are, back in the doll-house, preparing for another week of wet weather. Lots of people are sick and tired of this wet spring, but I don't mind the rain. I like walking out into the gusts. I like the smell of wet pavement, and the sound of blown rain on the windows. I like the way the greens deepen and the grays shift and sway.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Last night, instead of soft-shell crabs, I cooked skate cheeks, which look and feel a bit like chunks of chicken breast, but with a much lighter texture . . . you could think of them as really-smart-poor-man's scallops. I had some homemade kombu broth in the freezer, so I thawed it out and precooked some ramen. Then I quickly sauteed the skate cheeks in grapeseed oil, salt, and cayenne, finishing them with a thin glaze of tamari, grated ginger, and sesame oil. I soaked the ramen in the boiling broth and split it between the soup plates, topped the ramen with the skate, and sprinkled everything with chopped cilantro. You should make this because it was really, really, really tasty. And if you don't have skate cheeks (I never did before discovering the Harbor Fish Market), you could adjust for chicken breast or scallops or chunks of firm-fleshed fin fish.

Today we're going to go somewhere or another on a picnic--probably a coastal beach because the blackflies are out in force inland. When I think about Harmony, those flies are one of the few things I don't pine over. Here, by the urban sea, there seem to be zero black flies and mosquitoes. A person can actually sit outside on a bench in the springtime. Who knew that such luxury was possible?


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Yesterday's nicest editorial remark: "The poems [in Songs about Women and Men] are surprising and odd in the most delightful way."

As of now, I've still got no promise of publication, but the book remains under consideration at this editor's press. So, on the whole, I'd say her email was a good omen on a Friday afternoon.

I managed to finish the first drafts all of my Frost Place reading intros/laudatory speeches, so now I can move on to thinking about other curricular responsibilities, such as "What does environmental writing mean to me, and how can I get kids who are distracted by kayaks to buy into that point of view?" and "How can I encapsulate the goals of my book The Conversation into an advertising blurb for a 10-week seminar?"

However, I plan to do neither of those things today. I don't exactly know what I'll be doing instead, but it will eventually involve going for a walk to the fish market and then cooking a fish dinner with Tom. We are thinking of soft-shell crabs, but who knows what we'll bring home? The fish market is a snap-judgment kind of place.

In the meantime, I leave you with this discouraging thought, from Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater: "He'd paid the full price for art, only he hadn't made any." I can't get that notion out of my head. Maybe it's like an anti-mantra.

And maybe you can explain why I've also got the lyrics to Bob Dylan's "Quinn the Eskimo" stuck in my head (. . . "ain't my cup of meat" . . . " them pigeons'll run to him" . . . over and over). I asked Tom for his opinion, and all he said was "It's better than Olivia Newton-John's 'let's get physical, phys-i-cal,'" which is apparently what's stuck in his head. I can't argue with that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

All night, a beautiful gale--wind whistling and moaning around corners, through cracks, down chimneys; rain whipping scraps of leaves, petals, catkins against the running windows; and on the bay, the seasick sailboats lurching and tugging at their anchors, the gulls flinging sideways into the gusts, the little gray waves spitting at the shore.

No baby strollers on the streets this morning, just a few doughty dogs-and-walkers, cars breasting storm-drain ponds, wet public-works guys rescuing blown-over "Construction Area" signs, a sodden but cheerful squirrel peacefully skippety-skipping across a lawn.

Today I hope to be finishing up my Frost Place reading intros, but I'll also be prepping for some other tasks. Oddly enough, I've received of rush of teaching offers over the past few days. I told you about the Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar--that two-day high school environmental writing/sea kayaking/camping fest that I'll be co-leading in July. Now the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance has offered me two opportunities: first, to teach a half-day poetry workshop in Kittery in August; and then, starting in September, to lead a 10-week poetry seminar . . . a full-scale reading/conversation/writing/revision extravaganza. On top of that, I met yesterday with the Telling Room staff about next steps for working as a teaching artist in their public school programs, and it looks as if I will also probably begin that job in the fall.

So little by little, my cobble-together "career" is cobbling together. It will be difficult/fascinating to lead a college-level poetry seminar at the same time as a public school residency. I imagine I'll have plenty to tell you about the experience.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Out on the deck, the seedlings in my miniature lettuce garden--four brief rows of mesclun, arugula, kale, chard--have broken out into their first true leaves, tiny replicas of the plants to come. I am longing for someone to arrive at my door with an armload of lilacs. At home I would have been cutting fresh flowers every day, but all I can do now is to steal a whiff over other people's fences.

I have noticed that this town is full of mockingbirds, many of them living in the brushy areas down by the bay. A mockingbird is a bit like a socialized thrush. In Harmony, in the quiet damp of the evening, I would hold my breath, waiting to hear the invisible thrush sing. But a mockingbird flits boldly from crabapple to lamp-post, cocking his tail and pouring out his comic repertoire. Sometimes he even seems to follow me as I walk, bouncing from tree to post to tree, crying out, "Wait! Here's another one!"

Yesterday I borrowed three more Penelope Fitzgerald novels from the library. Apparently I am in a mood. Or maybe I just need a smart woman's voice to balance out this Philip Roth novel I am reading. Sabbath's Theater is more or less an old man's version of Portnoy's Complaint. In other words, it's obnoxious on purpose, and that is tiring.

Later this afternoon I'll be heading north for band practice, so you're unlikely to hear from me tomorrow morning. I hope your day has some mockingbird in it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Heavy warm rain last night, then a rich lamplit fog, and now the sky lifting its blanket before my eyes . . .

Today I will work on Frost Place stuff--mostly writing introductions for readers, which means constructing my version of the sweetest review the poet has ever received. We don't have a great deal of honorarium money at the Frost Place, so I do what I can to make my visiting faculty feel like honored guests. And for a writer, not much feels better than knowing you've had a careful and sympathetic reader who wants to tell the world about your art.

But writing reviews takes time, and in such situations I am the opposite of a procrastinator. I'm always afraid I'm not going to give myself enough of a chance to do the best job possible. That accounts for why I'm prepping for a program that's still a month away.

The conference is, at this point, in a really good place. We are full-up with applicants, which is a great boon for our fragile budget. Of course, there's always the chance that someone will have to drop out, but we even have some wiggle room to weather that eventuality.

So, Frost Place stuff today, and a long walk, and lilacs in bloom, and a yoga class, and then homemade falafel for dinner. Maybe I should concentrate on the picaresque as a life goal.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Last night my son sent me a small essay he wrote about leaving Harmony, which he's going to transform into the script for a dance performance he's designing as his final for a choreography class. I cried, of course. He telephoned afterward, and we talked for a while, and then he started reading passages aloud from my book Tracing Paradise--passages he's planning to use as citations in a paper. As he pointed out, there aren't that many historians of Harmony around. He and I may be the only ones.

Anyway: to think that my own son will cite me in a college paper-- It's an odd feeling.

This morning I'll put in my last day of writing work with the ELL kids. And then I'll walk home in the rain. I'm feeling melancholy . . . not because of the weather--it's just another gust of homesickness and elegy. I think that sadness will never vanish.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Last night as I was making dinner (sauteed chicken breasts breaded with fresh crumbs and parmesan, oven-roasted potatoes in duck fat, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil), I decided that clank may be the top word in the English language in the category of "words that sound exactly like what they describe but also work very well as words." Of course, there are other good words in this category, such as buzz and boom, but I think clank is special because it takes into account the volume and pitch of the imitated sound as well as the sound's aural shape. Buzz makes an excellent buzzy noise but it doesn't differentiate between the varieties of buzz: e.g., the low hum of a hive of bees versus the high-pitched hum of a gnat. Boom enacts the open-ended whoosh of an explosion but not its deafening resonance. Clank, however, is exactly like a clank.

I also think sneeze is pretty good, although humans and animals have a variety of sneezes--including, for instance, the painful un-sneeze-like version that some people exhibit, when they seem to swallow the sound instead of exhaling it.

I'm eager to hear your arguments against clank. What have you got that's better?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

For some reason I slept like a drowned person last night, and now I've woken up groggy and mush-minded and generally unfit for conversation.

The sun is shining, and a sparrow is chirring. Through the window, I am watching two starlings have the bad idea of building their nest inside the neighboring house's exhaust vent.

Outside on the street corner, someone has set up tables and chairs and piles of little cups . . . yard sale items, perhaps? An event I'll need to avoid?

In the bedroom the mantel clock ticks ticks ticks ticks. Here in the main room, copies of the New Yorker and of Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater lie on the kitchen table, alongside a candle and a coffee cup. There's a stack of records on the stereo cabinet--Yo La Tengo, William Onyeabor, the Holy Modal Rounders, the Louvin Brothers. On the coffee table there's another New Yorker, a half-finished New York Times crossword puzzle, a copy of Dwell, a historical atlas of Maine, a DVD case for an Alex Cox movie titled Walker, two remote controls, a pencil, and Tom's glasses. On the table beside the window: a small lamp, an empty fruit bowl, a dish of cherry tomatoes, and a white cat.

On the floor, Tom's shoes, a copper pan filled with cat toys, a stack of last Sunday's New York Times, a red floor lamp, a black and gray rug. On the walls, a portrait of one of my great-great-great grandmothers, three of Tom's photographs (the gas station in Harmony, a pixelated beach, a woman driving a car), a bookcase filled with CDs (too many to list) and decorated with four small candles and one old camera and and a device for looking at stereo photos, a blue clock, two stereo speakers. On the low shelves: a philodendron, an orange and white tin cup filled with pencils, two library books (Skylark, Human Voices), a cribbage game, a copy of Aperture, three marble tiles, a silver reading lamp. On the high shelves: two sea shells, a baseball-sized sphere of concrete, a salad bowl, three candles, two DVDs from the library (Kubrick's The Killing, Kaurismaki's Ariel), a small TV, a tangle of wifi and router stuff and an HD box and a DVD player, a small computer printer, ten or fifteen art-photography books (Disfarmer, Arbus, Gowin, Shore, etc.), and a shelf of records (too many to list).

Now the white cat jumps off the table, and the day begins.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Yesterday was our first (possibly our only?) hot, hot day . . . a day for ice tea and linen dresses and barefoot babies in the grass . . .  a day that magically transforms cats into torpid blobs of hair . . . a day to watch overweight corgis try to drink out of water fountains . . . a day to listen to the drivers of 80s-era muffler-challenged junkers blast obscure Clash songs through their permanently open windows . . . a day to sit on a shady deck playing cribbage and losing to Tom again . . . a day to eat macaroni salad with fiddleheads and ramps, to chase away love-sick moths, to curse the repetitive jingle of the ice cream truck . . . a day to sleep without a blanket and to wonder where we stored the box fan. We may not see this day's like again.

This morning I'm off to another session at the high school. Yesterday I worked on poems with two young women, and at the end of the class, one of them crowed to her classroom teacher, "Poetry is magic!" So, needless to say, I am full of joy and pride in her happiness. Today the two girls and I will sit together and go through our "two stars and a wish" revision conversation. Frost Place alums know that phrase as a shorthand version for "what do I notice? what do I wonder?" I am excited to hear these young women--one from Burundi, the other from Iraq; both so homesick; both still living with the shock of war and displacement; both overflowing with the smoldering emotions of adolescence--ask each other those questions about their work.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Yesterday I was invited to co-direct the 2017 Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar, a brief but free experiential learning opportunity for Maine high schoolers. The focus will be on environmental writing, intermingled with sea kayaking and camping overnight on an island; and I will get to take charge of the workshops while my co-director, the poet/musician/teacher Ian Ramsey, takes charge of the kayaking, etc. I'm excessively pleased about this opportunity, even though my kayak skills are rudimentary and I will undoubtedly be awake all night wondering why I always manage to arrange my sleeping bag on rocks and roots.

Such a pleasant invitation was a sweet distraction from the presidential scandal du jour. I am so glad to have a fresh chance to spend time with kids. As my younger son said to me tenderly over the phone, "I know you miss us." Indeed I do.

Today the temperature is forecast to rise to over 90 degrees . . . an unbelievable change from last week's perpetual 40-degrees-and-rain. Most of my summer clothes are still folded up at the bottom of trucks, so I hope I can find something decent to wear to school today. The cat is already torpidly arranged on his yellow chair, and Tom is loading his water bottle with ice cubes, and I am imagining macaroni salad with ramps and fiddleheads for dinner. Maybe we can climb out the window and sit on our teeny deck and listen to the passing motorcycles blast "Honky-Tonk Woman." Guys on motorcycles really love the Rolling Stones.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

During last week's visit to the library, I impulsively borrowed a novel I'd never heard of before: Skylark (1923) by the Hungarian writer Dezso Kosztolanyi. It's an intriguing book, and I'll tell you more about it when I get further into it, but Peter Esterhazy's introduction is interesting as well. In the course of writing about Kosztolanyi, Esterhazy discusses the evolution of the Hungarian literary sentence:
Kosztolanyi simplified the Hungarian sentence, made it shorter, purer. The nineteenth-century sentence was long-winded, the meaning wandering through long periodic structures, and in any case the Hungarian long sentence is a dubious formation because the words do not have genders and the subordinate clauses are more uncertainly connected to the main clauses than in the reassuring rigour of a Satzbau (German sentence construction). Such sentences totter along, uncertain even of themselves, stammer a little; in short, are extremely lovable.
Esterhazy's charming conflation of grammar and human awkwardness is itself "extremely lovable" and it makes me want to borrow one of his books from the library. I am glad to have accidentally stumbled into another undiscovered country.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

So, what's it going to take for the Republicans to face the facts here? Our so-called president is more than a morally corrupt braggart. He's also incapable of protecting our national security and is very likely treasonous. Why isn't every single member of Congress rushing into meetings to solve this problem? Why are our elected officials letting this happen?

Every day offers a new way to feel sick about the state of our nation.

I love my country so much . . . its landscapes, its people, its languages. The foods we eat, the water we drink. Our stories and poems and songs. The wilderness and the cities. Every one of these glories is under threat. Will we be left with nothing but rubble?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Here are two amusing/gloomy quotations-out-of context, both from Penelope Fitzgerald's Human Voices:
"When one's children are grown up . . . and the flat is empty I find that one talks to certain pieces of furniture quite often, and to oneself, of course." 
"These are hard times for poets. . . . Poetry has suffered its fate. Let's only hope that music doesn't follow it."
* * *

The rain has stopped, for the moment, but last night our bedroom was like a treehouse in a gale. It was delightful. I spent Sunday doing a whole lot of nothing much, other than some desultory laundry-washing and stew-making. This week I hope to be more energetic. I have a batch of Frost Place poet introductions to write, a poetry manuscript to finish editing, and a new academic-manuscript project on the horizon.

And no doubt there will be more chaos in Washington to distract me. The various characters in our executive branch are like flotsam spinning down a curbside drain.

* * *

And here's another bit from Fitzgerald. Ponder it metaphorically as you see fit:
"In size and shape [the bomb] approximately resembled a taxi, and passers-by in fact mentioned that they had thought it was a taxi. It was understandable therefore that [Jeff], who appeared anyway to have something on his mind, should walk up to it, and, confusing it in the darkness, try to open what might have been, but was not, a door. Anyone might have done this."

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The rain is pouring, pouring, down onto the streets and brick sidewalks, onto the green hill, into the gray fidgeting bay. The doll-house windows run with water; wind whips at the wheeling gulls.

But yesterday was lovely. I wore sandals to the farmers' market. We bought a fresh duck breast and a pint of lion's mane mushrooms and a bunch of green garlic and a bottle of local cider, so I suppose you can guess that the beef-stew-and-artichokes plan was postponed.

And now we have a Sunday without intent. I might actually put on my rainboots and go out and purchase a paper copy of the New York Times. It seems like one of those old-fashioned days that should be spent among piles of newspaper and cups of coffee.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Personally, I am convinced that the hammer is about to fall on this administration, and I am working hard not to be impatient for the denouement. So instead of obsessing about the news, I will attempt to concentrate on books and sunshine. Last night I made cavatelli with shrimp, asparagus, and ramps. Tonight we'll have stifado and artichokes. Along the way I will read a Hayden Carruth poem and a Penelope Fitzgerald novel. I will try to clean the cat footprints off the cherry side-table. I will go to the bank and to the farmers' market. I will listen to a baseball game and thin my arugula seedlings. I will look at the photographs of houses for sale.

Yesterday one of the high school students told me that she'd gone for a walk and, for the first time, suddenly realized that Portland was beautiful.

These children make me cry.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sorry you didn't get a note from me yesterday. I'd gone up north on Wednesday afternoon for band practice, and then raced back here first thing in the morning so that I could make it to my high school session . . . and I'm so glad I did because I got to work with a young woman from Iraq who is drafting an extraordinarily moving poem.

The tone of the poem is both elegiac and puzzled: the writer misses her country and admires it, but is also saddened by the fact that that she has known it only as chaos and rubble, never as the beautiful land that older people can recall. Her feelings vibrate through the piece, despite grammar struggles and vocabulary confusions. To me, her poem is an important lesson in the power of a language to transcend its own materials. Every other word may be "wrong," yet a sentence may still sing.

My life has improved considerably since I've started spending time with these students.

* * *
from The Sleeping Beauty by Hayden Carruth 
The poem moves.
                                    After the fierce intention,
The exalting, reaching and thrusting through lust,
Through densities of image, to explode transcendence
From a broken language, to touch
Everyone’s wordlessness, to crush what was meant
Till it dances clear of language like forestfire bent
And flaring in the wind—

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Thanks, Trump. By firing James Comey, you've convinced me that every member of your cadre is gnashing his or her pointed little teeth in a fen of treason and corruption, that they all answer to you, and that you answer to Putin. I was already pretty sure things were bad, but now you've been stupid enough to verify every suspicion. I mean, really: what could be more revelatory than firing the person who's leading an investigation into your misdeeds? Your idiocy is our only hope, because your evil and your selfishness are unmitigated.

Nixon's former White House counsel, John Dean, has said to the New Yorker: "If they think they can influence the Russian investigation by removing Comey, they are naive. I learned from my own experience that you can't put in the fix by removing somebody."

I'm think he knows what he's talking about.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Yesterday I spent another session with the immigrant high school students. And it came to me again--for this is no new discovery--that what is drawing me to this class is a bond of homesickness. Most high schoolers I work with don't have a powerful sense of elegy. But these children do, and it constantly emerges in their conversations and their writings. They come from many different places, and they have many different skills and backgrounds and pains and joys. But they are bonded with one another over a deep understanding of loss, and that connection is so clear, so evident, even in their banter and their simple physical behavior with one another.

I was talking with one girl--I think she may be from Iran--who told me that she has a vivid memory of this past Christmas, her first in Portland: of walking outside at night, with the snow coming down under the streetlights, and the bay blinking along the stones, and the little narrow-gauge engine chugging up and down its track, puffing its smoke, playing at being the Polar Express. And I said to her: "That's just what I remember! This was my first Christmas in Portland too!" And we looked at each other: a 15-year-old and a 52-year-old; strangers. It was a moment of comprehension for both of us.

Anyway, it's good I've fallen into this situation because I know that sadness is taking its toll on me. I went to the doctor yesterday and told her about the intermittent anxieties and palpitations and traveling nervous pains that I've been working on overcoming since I first found out I would have to leave home. I am perfectly healthy, but my body is sorrowing. Still, I'm better than I was, and I know the classroom visits are helping. They give me perspective, certainly. These children have endured death and disaster; they have fled wars and warlords, often alone. I didn't cross continents; I drove two hours south. Yet a loss is a loss.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Yesterday Tom and I went for a walk on windy, windy Mackworth Island, and then we went to the Goodwill, where I bought three books, and then we came back to Portland and played cribbage and drank Belgian beer in the middle of the afternoon. It was a pleasant Sunday . . . and there were no more Blanche DuBois dreams in the night, thank God.

Today will be a rushing-around-for-appointments day. And this week we are going to begin our preparatory moves toward house shopping redux, which has become more complicated because we've just discovered that Tom has to buy another vehicle. His truck looks fine on the outside, but treachery lurks within.

I finished the beautiful Penelope Fitzgerald novel and am now reading Blindness, a less beautiful but still interesting Henry Green novel--his first, and as awkward and fascinating as the first novels of great writers often turn out to be. It does have awful cover art and text design, however . . . not his fault, but distracting.

The books I bought at the Goodwill were Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater, Tim O'Brien's Going after Cacciato, and The Anchor Book of Modern Arabic Fiction. I wanted to buy Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory, but somebody seems to have dropped all three of the copies for sale into the bathtub. I drop plenty of books into the tub myself, but I don't want to buy other people's bathtub accidents.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Last night I dreamed I was Blanche DuBois.

Ugh. Enough said about that.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

The neighborhood is wrapped in fog. Anything that can be seen is gauzy and indistinct, and there is no sign that an ocean exists. I am sitting in our grey living room listening to wet car tires and bus sighs and a ticking clock on the mantel and the sound of the cat's claws picking at a window screen. I don't know what we'll be doing today, but I daresay most of it will require lamplight.

I am weary this morning . . . partly because it hurts to sleep on my yoga-injured hip, partly because I am exhausted by Republican malice, partly because being fog-bound is soporific. I have been reading Offshore, a beautiful tiny novel by Penelope Fitzgerald about living in a shabby houseboat in the Thames, and I am imagining I would have slept much better last night if I'd been rocking back and forth on a tidal river. I have always wanted to sleep in a houseboat, and to sleep in a Pullman car, and to sleep in Heidi's loft in the Alps. Do other people also have lifelong fantasies about lovely places to sleep? Or am I the only one?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Yesterday I conceived and finished another poem, which, like the one I wrote earlier this week, also arrived nearly fully formed. I'm afraid to jinx matters by talking about them, but I could be sliding into the zone, which is a place I haven't seen for a long time.

This morning's cloudy weather is forecast to descend into rain, and then heavy rain, and then wind and heavy rain, but I have three library books and the ingredients for minestrone, and I will try to avoid thinking about the government.

I can't stop marveling about the poems. They flowed from my thoughts like water. The act of writing felt like benediction. I'm grateful.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Sorry about this late post, but I was up north last night for band practice and just got back to Portland a few minutes ago. Now I'm trying to figure out how to exist inside this last beautiful day before our next deluge. I'm all for rain, but there's been a lot of it lately, and the bulk of it has been cold and raw and un-summery. I hope there will be at least a few southern breezes in this coming batch.

I'm in Portland for the weekend, though I was scheduled to be up in Washington County teaching a class. Unfortunately it didn't end up running, and fortunately I have a weekend to hang out with Tom, and unfortunately I don't get paid, and fortunately I don't have to drive for four hours each way. So I guess you could call that a draw.

This week has been fairly productive, despite all the time I've spent in the car. I finished an essay (which was a long torture), and finished a poem (which sprang from my skull fully formed), and returned an edited ms to its press, and saw my kid dance, and hung out with my in-laws, and looked at some art, and played music with my band, and read about the history of Vietnam, and talked on the phone with my family, and prevented the cat from destroying the couch, and yanked a muscle in my hip doing yoga. So that's something more than nothing. Tomorrow, instead of driving for four hours, I'll go back to the high school class I've been volunteering in. Today, maybe I'll manage to get something else more than nothing done. I hope so. My body is longing to dig in the dirt, but that is not an option. I've got to distract myself from springtime.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sin

Every week is a shocking week in America. Our so-called president is demented and cruel, and he idolizes every strongman he meets. His ignorance about Civil War history may be embarrassing, but it is the least of our problems. We are in the grip of a prime-time terrorist who believes that the Constitution needs to be rewritten in his favor, that shutting down our government is a viable leadership strategy, that lying is a normal pattern of communication, that dropping big bombs is so fun . . . and the list goes on and on.

And then there are the other stories. A Dallas cop shoots an unarmed black child and lies about it. Boston baseball fans shout racist epithets at a Baltimore outfielder. Bill O'Reilly is forced out at Fox News . . . not because he is a serial sexual harasser but because the network was losing advertising revenue. Yet he received truckloads of money on his way out, refuses to admit to his crimes, and no doubt will continue to make truckloads of money in some other venue. Hell, maybe he'll run for president.

I am not a person who throws the word sin around lightly. But it seems to me that we are under its spell right now. Our so-called president is an evil man, and he has perverted his high office. He has no morals, no compassion. His prime motivations are greed and malice, and his wickedness is staining the fabric of our common humanity. I wonder what John Milton would have to say about all of this.

Meanwhile, I putter along, shellshocked. The sun shines on the water, and babies play in the green grass. It's difficult to know what to write.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

It's 42 degrees and it's thundering and the rain is pouring down, and about twenty very wet women are jogging (slogging? bogging?) up and down the steep hill outside my window. Ick. I am happy to be dry and warm. I spent much of Saturday standing around in a grim almost-drizzle with my in-laws, watching or waiting to watch the senior dance projects at Bennington, one of which took place in a pool of water. I was reminded of the years I spent sitting on the sidelines of little-kid baseball games, grousing about how long six innings could actually last, internally cursing the slow and hapless pitcher, and wondering if I would have any non-frostbitten toes by the time the torment ended. Who knew that the same thing could happen at a modern dance extravaganza? [This is not to denigrate either baseball or dance, which are both beautiful. And I would stand in the rain all day for the privilege of watching my son perform.]

Anyway, there's much to be said for a thick red bathrobe and a cup of hot coffee and an enthusiastic iron radiator.

I wonder what you thought of the poem I linked to yesterday. A friend of mine commented that it sounded like a compressed sonnet to her, an observation that I found very exciting because this was not a conscious construction strategy . . . although, oddly enough, the poem does mention the word sonnet. I do know that I wrote it at a time when my son was infatuated with the Hamilton soundtrack and was also listening to a fair amount of Kendrick Lamar, so my air was suffused with hip-hop rhymes and cadences. I also know that I had Macbeth on my mind.  But the sonnet structure--which I can now absolutely track in the piece--arrived without my conscious volition. It seems that decades spent reading and copying out sonnets have affected my brain patterns. I think that's thrilling.

Monday, May 1, 2017

I'm still in Massachusetts, getting ready to head back to Maine, so I can't spend much time over this note to you. But I did think you might be interested in this poem, "Your Fate," out today in Vox Populi. Talk to you tomorrow.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

This week I spent time with a classroom full of high school students from Congo, Uganda, Jordan, Afghanistan, Guam, Haiti, Burundi. . . . Some have been in the United States for only two or three months; some have arrived without parents or siblings. I don't know their backstories. But I do know that their Portland English class is an amazing space of learning and warmth. I know that they high-five the visiting writers when we show up, that they make easy eye-contact with us and are eager to spend time with us, that they can't wait to talk and write about their memories and their observations.

I'm just a volunteer in these sessions; I don't lead the classes or prepare curriculum. So I'm getting a chance to learn and watch, to just be relaxed with the kids. It's been beautiful, really.

Tomorrow morning, early, I'll be on the road again--off to watch my son perform and to visit with my in-laws. So, once again, my correspondence will be spotty.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Yesterday was a good day. First, I sat in on an excellent class with a terrific group of high schoolers from all over the world. Then, in the evening, I debuted my poem "Duet for Uncle Paul" at a reading where I also got to spend time with the work and the company of three other fine Maine poets.

I've designed the poem for two voices, but I last night I had only myself as reader. I was glad to see, however, that the difference in the written voices made them easy to distinguish, and the audience members were very helpful in their reactions to the balance of the two parts. Of course I was nervous about bringing such a new piece into the air, but I kept telling myself, What the hell? Why not try? It was Paul's birthday earlier this week: he would have been 72. The coincidences had aligned, and I am a sucker for coincidence.

This morning I'm going back to the high school for another volunteer session, and then I will come home and open all the windows because outside it will be warm and damp and spring. I feel so energized from having spent a day being useful. I haven't felt particularly useful to anyone, for most of a year. It's a hard identity to lose.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I may have finally found the Vietnam War book I was hoping to discover: Frances FitzGerald's Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. FitzGerald was a freelance journalist during the war, publishing her reports in the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and other such literary venues. Her book, which won a Pulitzer, was published in 1972; and instead of focusing exclusively on combat engagements and politician behaviors, it also works to reflect the war through the eyes of everyday Vietnamese and American citizens. Moreover, FitzGerald can spin a narrative, which, I'm sorry to say, many military historians and journalists cannot. I've been kicking myself for getting so bored with most of the books I've taken out of the library. But really, the tedium wasn't all my fault.

This morning, I'm off to sit in on an ELL writing class at a local high school, and then I've got to prep for my reading in Yarmouth tonight. I just might wear my beautiful new dress.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tomorrow evening I'll be doing my National Poetry Month duty--e.g., reading with Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Megan Grumbling, and Jim Thatcher at Merrill Memorial Library, on Main Street in Yarmouth, Maine. I'd love to see you there.

And next weekend I'm scheduled to teach a day-long poetry workshop for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, this time way up in Trescott, in Washington County. So if you're in the hinterlands and are looking for something to do on May 6, you might consider signing up.

Otherwise, life continues apace, as does the rain. I fetched Tom home from the airport at midnight last night, so my cloistered long weekend is now officially over. I wish I'd accomplished more writing-wise than I did, but four new pages in an essay draft that's been driving me crazy for six weeks are not nothing. On my rainy walk to yoga class yesterday afternoon, I noticed that a few flowering trees are beginning to blossom, and the parks smell of wet grass and thawed soil and joyful dogs. I am trying hard not to let my thoughts turn to my garden back home.

What I am going to do is walk out into the spring rain, and then trudge back up the stairs to the doll-house and write a syllabus, and then fix oven-fried chicken for the one I love.
                                              Delirium,
This talk of art & love, the odds & ends! 
--from Hayden Carruth, "The Sleeping Beauty"

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yesterday I received notice that my collection Songs about Women and Men was a semi-finalist for the Dorset Prize. This is the second time this season that I've had a collection place well in a contest: early in the year, Chestnut Ridge was a semi-finalist for the Wilder Prize.

I'm gratified that readers seem to be interested in both collections, but of course I'm also frustrated because I can't seem to get beyond that status. Then again, I haven't been applying to contests for all that long. So I guess I should be patient with myself.

Both collections are sitting on the desks of various non-contest publishers, so maybe something will happen there. Reading fashions change, that's for sure. For a while, I'd given up on Chestnut Ridge entirely, and now, since the election, it seems to be garnering at least some attention. I was listening to an interview with the playwright Lynn Nottage, who researched and wrote her play Sweat (about working-class Reading, Pennsylvania) well before Trump came to power. Yet audiences, post-Trump, are responding to it as a topical statement. The same may be true of Chestnut Ridge. But I hate to allow myself to get too optimistic. There are a lot of people out there trying to publish poetry manuscripts. I've heard that roughly a thousand people submitted to the Dorset Prize. I'm lucky to get any kind of notice.

Monday, April 24, 2017

This morning I will be having a Skype conversation with a classroom full of Oklahoma undergraduates who are studying editing. I am the exemplar of "freelance editing," and I am a little nervous about the idea that students are actually imagining it to be a lucrative career. Um, no.

I am also a little nervous about the cat's ability to behave himself for 45 minutes. If he doesn't, I guess the students will get to glimpse another downside of freelancing.

After the Skype session, I'm hoping to get some new writing started. I've been in a pattern lately: read read read read, write. Read read read read, write. It's a common-enough pattern for me, but the read sections are going on for an unusual length of time, and often they feel more like floundering among texts than like any productive gathering of information. Poem research isn't historical research, that's for sure.

Early this morning I woke up to barking, and thought, Oh someone's come up the driveway. And then I realized that my dog was dead and I don't have a driveway anymore. It was a sad way to wake up.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

This morning's view: sunshine, wet green grass, and a clear blue sea. And in frivolous news, I bought the most beautiful dress yesterday, and it only cost $25.

I spent my Saturday slowly filling time. I tried on 13 items of clothing at the store. I cooked an Asian noodle dish that required me to chop and cook small amounts of many different kinds of vegetables. I went outside into the drizzle and took a slow walk along the shore.  I spent much time reading Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. And so my day alone turned out to be a good day, a very good day.

I know that some portion of my Sunday needs to involve housework, but that's okay too. I like clean floors and tidy surfaces and a well-scrubbed bathtub. Housework is not a waste of time. It's another way to acquaint oneself with place. And because this doll-house is the only place I've got, I take its condition seriously.






Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Wednesday night, when I was up north, I drove blindly through a dense snow squall. Here in Portland, there's nothing but rain. It fell all day yesterday, and all through the night, and is still falling now . . . mostly as a dense drizzle, but sometimes more urgently, sometimes as a patter of drops.

Out on the deck, my row of arugula seeds has sprouted, and my stalwart pansies and herb seedlings twitch in a small wet wind. Inside, the cat is draped over the radiator. The doll-house smells of coffee and toast.

Yesterday I finished War and Peace for the the thousandth time, and now I have started reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad for the first time. I spent some time yesterday copying out Carruth's poetry and scanning through Takin' It to the Streets, an anthology of writings from the 1960s. Among them is a speech titled "The Incredible War," which the president of Students for a Democratic Society delivered at a 1965 anti-war rally in front of the Washington Monument. The president's name was Paul Potter, and he is no relation to me. He just happens to share a name and an era with my uncle.

In his speech, that other Paul Potter said:
The war goes on; the freedom to conduct that war depends on the dehumanization not only of the Vietnamese people but of Americans as well; it depends on the construction of a system of premises and thinking that insulates the President and his advisors thoroughly and completely from the human consequences of the decisions they make. I do not believe that the President or Mr. Rusk or Mr. McNamara or even McGeorge Bundy are particularly evil men. If asked to throw napalm on the back of a ten-year-old child they would shrink in horror--but their decisions have led to mutilation and death of thousands and thousands of people. 
What kind of system is it that allows good men to make those kinds of decisions? What kind of system is it that justifies the United States or any country [in] seizing the destinies of the Vietnamese people and using them callously for its own purpose? What kind of system is it that disenfranchises people in the South, leaves millions upon millions of people throughout the country impoverished and excluded from the mainstream and promise of American society, that creates faceless and terrible bureaucracies and makes those the place where people spend their lives and do their work, that consistently puts material values before human values--and still persists in calling itself free and still persists in finding itself fit to police the world?
Three years later, in a letter to his older brother, written in early 1968, my Paul Potter wrote:
I've been having quite a time over here. I'm in the unit that does all the good stuff that I wanted to get into.
No wonder his older brother still cries when we talk about those days.

Friday, April 21, 2017

This morning has been a flurry of packing as Tom gets ready to fly to Chicago for a long weekend with our older son. He has not been on a plane for years, not since all of the new TSA regulations came into being, so he is slightly flustered by all the prohibitions . . . but also amused. "Did you know," he reads aloud to me, "that I am allowed to bring along 'artificial skeleton bones'?"

Unfortunately, we do not have any artificial skeleton bones for him to try out on the TSA guys, though we do have some deer antlers. Perhaps he should pack them.

So I will revert to last year's single life, for a weekend. I don't really have any plans, other than to go to the Subaru dealership to buy a stupid piece of plastic housing that fell off my car and maybe I'll also try to force myself to go clothes shopping so that I can acquire some summer shirts that don't have holes in them.

But this weekend I will open that folder of papers from my uncle Paul. I will finish copying out Carruth's "Sleeping Beauty." I will go for a walk beside the ocean.

And now Tom has just walked into the room to inform me that the TSA says he's allowed to travel with "gravy" and a "waffle iron." It's so wonderful they're looking out for our needs.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I'm heading up north this afternoon for band practice, so I'll be on the road tomorrow morning and probably won't get a chance to write to you. I haven't played music for a few weeks and am worried about my rustiness, but c'est la vie, I guess. At least the days are longer now and I don't have to drive up in the dark. At least it's baseball season and I can listen to the Red Sox as I drive over the mud and the frost heaves to my bed at my friends' house.

Yesterday I got a flurry of Frost Place applications: four in one day! That was exciting, and it also made me realize that I should warn any of you who hopes to take part in the optional Writing Intensive but hasn't submitted an app yet: Submit now, or you risk losing your place. Because of space constraints, I have to cap the WI numbers at twelve, and we only have three openings left. So do not delay.

I also wanted to let you know that I've got some openings for manuscript work in May. A few of you have mentioned that you'd like me to look at poem sheafs or complete manuscripts, and now would be a good time to contact me, before my Frost Place rush begins. In addition, if you have visiting writer openings for the fall or can negotiate any reading/workshop opportunities, we could talk about that possibility too. I know my move to Portland has thrown me off track, but I am ready to climb back onto the train. And traveling out of state is so much easier for me than it used to be. Do be in touch.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My poem "Petition" is up at Vox Populi today.

The piece was triggered by one of those public notices printed in the classified sections of newspapers--in this case, from the State of Maine Probate Court, which was going through the legal motions of tracking down a parent who had disappeared.

The print version of this poem includes some indents, but WordPress doesn't manage them well, so the editor and I reconfigured the format slightly. I'd be glad to send you a copy if you're interested in examining how the indentation affects the tenor of the piece.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Yesterday the Prom was populated with crowds of dogs playing Frisbee, and girls chasing each other around in their Easter dresses, and lovers canoodling on benches, and families having picnics, and small children squealing, and young women tanning in various states of undress, and a remarkable number of couples in color-coordinated outfits. Today will be quieter, but the weather should be just as warm. For now, the only action is a sailboat and three guys laughing in Spanish.

I had an early morning dream last night about one of my publishers, who turns out to be about 8 feet tall and who made scurrilous remarks about my intelligence when we were trapped together in an elevator or something. Later in the dream she morphed into Captain of the Rescue Ship during Armageddon, with her version of Saint Peter at the Gates being the crabby janitor at the Harmony School. He decided not to let one Harmony citizen onto the ship but grudgingly gave me a place. I woke up before I learned whether the publisher would kick me off the boat if she knew I were there.

As a result of this dream, I feel like I've been bonked with a cartoon hammer. I hope the coffee helps.


Sunday, April 16, 2017


A teeny-tiny bit of country in the city. I am trying.
I am alone this Easter morning.

Yesterday afternoon Tom drove the boy back to college, but he'll be home tonight, in time for dinner. In the meantime I have mostly been idle. I spent some time on the deck, watching the walkers walk and the sailboats sail. I spent some time washing dishes and listening to baseball. I trudged to the fish market and bought crabmeat and a whole ocean perch for dinner tonight. I did not open the folder of my uncle's papers.

Now the window is open, and a car hisses by on the wet pavement. Remnants of last night's rain silver the deck railings, and my little herb plants are glistening in the thin wet daylight.

Yesterday, when I drove past my land in Harmony, I could see that the new owner has begun to cut some trees. I am trying not to think about that.

But today I feel so rootless. It is hard.

Friday, April 14, 2017

 A bright morning, but cool. And now, on the deck outside my bedroom window, sit two fat planters, one packed with herbs, the other seeded with various greens: mesclun mix, arugula, chard, red kale. I am inordinately pleased. I guess that's what happens when an elegist relinquishes her 40 acres . . . she can't stop staring at two containers of dirt.

Later today the boy and I will drive north into the land of mud and sodden snow and roaring woodstoves and dirty boots and black skies. Later today I may bring myself to open the folder of my uncle's papers that my father gave me a few days ago.

I have been slowly reading Marilynne Robinson's novel Home, slowly re-reading Tolstoy's War and Peace, slowly copying out Carruth's Sleeping Beauty. I have been talking to editors about both of my poetry manuscripts. I have been editing a book about censorship, and mulling over the poetry workshop I'm scheduled to teach in May, and prepping for the Frost Place conference. I have been sweeping floors and washing clothes. I have been criss-crossing the highways of New England and New York. I have been listening to baseball games, to a podcast about Grace Kelly, to birdsong, to the songs of Bob Marley, to the chatter of my son. I have been walking up steep hills in the sun and the rain.

"Place is the now / which is eternal. And we are passing on." --Hayden Carruth, "Vermont"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Well, I'm back from Vermont, and the boy is once again in the house: sleeping, eating, listening to baseball, and making his parents watch cute-animal videos and hip YouTube explanations of how leitmotif works in Schubert's lieder. Tomorrow he and I will head north for an overnight with our friends in the woods, but for the moment we are perched here in the doll-house, and I will attempt to get some work done this morning while he is still unconscious.

Spring seems to have set her foot firmly on the ground. After a day of rain, the grass in the park is greening and the air has softened. The doll-house is suffused with the scent of hyacinths, and I am itching to plant things on the deck. Probably I won't have very good luck out there as the exposure is due north, but that won't stop me from trying. But first I have to acquire pots and soil and seeds and plants and watering cans, and I have no idea where the nurseries are in this town, and I have no idea how hard it will be to manage all of this while climbing in and out of a window onto the deck and simultaneously fighting with a cat who is plotting an escapade. There is always something new to learn in this world.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The weather was rainy and raw in New York, but I returned to Portland just in time for spring. In New York I went to the Morgan and I went to the Whitney and I walked on the High Line and I stayed up late in Brooklyn eating cuttlefish with kumquats and listening to REM outtakes. In Portland I went for a walk at Fort Williams (which is really down the road in Cape Elizabeth) and enjoyed the delightful combination of crashing waves and peculiar WWI-era fort ruins. Then I went back to the doll-house and washed the floors and listened to a baseball game and made a salad of farro and brussels sprouts and cherry tomatoes and smoked tuna and fell asleep at 8:45.

Tomorrow I'm on the road again . . . off to Vermont to fetch the boy home for spring break. I'm sure my correspondence will be spotty this week, given that he doesn't drive but wants to visit friends and relatives far and near. Ah, well. There are worse things in this world than driving around northern New England singing along to the radio with my big chatty son. Many worse things. Few better ones.


Friday, April 7, 2017

And here I am in Brooklyn, New York, eating a leftover burrito for breakfast and considering a walk up to the botanical garden.

Here I am, citizen of the nation that is bombing Syria.

Cars honk; a bus whirrs past.

My children are not being gassed or lying homeless on a wet street.

I cannot stop imagining.

What does a watcher do with the simultaneity of these statements?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

You will not hear from me tomorrow morning as I'll need to leave the doll-house before dawn to catch my bus to NYC. But I hope to check in with you at some point during my wet and whirlwind trip.

Today I'll need to figure out how to fill a few spare hours tomorrow afternoon. More importantly, I'll need to decide what outfit to wear for a morning that will involve sandwich crumbs on a bus, followed by an afternoon spent walking around the city in torrential rain, followed by an evening presentation among people I've never met. What is the correct attire for such a variable occasion? I have no idea.

Yesterday I revisited an essay draft I started a couple of weeks ago, and I think maybe I've decided where to go with it. But we'll see if I have time to do anything about that idea: my new editing project has also arrived, and the next couple of weeks are going to involve a fair amount of travel. Still, even though the writing honeymoon is over, at least I got a big poem out of it.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

I'm still waiting for a new editing assignment to arrive, so in the meantime I've been copying out Carruth's long poem "The Sleeping Beauty," reading a collection of Vietnam-era letters, finishing Komunyakaa's Warhorses, continuing to make my way through War and Peace, and tinkering with my poem draft, which has crept close to a final version. Yesterday afternoon I opened all of the windows, and swept the floors, and marinated two fat pork chops in lemon and fresh sage, and listened joyfully to the Red Sox win their opening-day game. But the rest of the week will be a different tale, one involving thick rain and a raw spring wind.

On Thursday morning I'll be taking the bus to NYC for a Frost Place event, and the forecast is intimating that I'll be jostling through rush-hour Manhattan in an umbrella forest instead of ambling along the High Line gazing at daffodils. Oh, well. At least I'll have the excitement of an easy commute. Getting from Harmony to Manhattan was an arduous all-day event: an hour's drive to the Augusta bus station, then a total of 10 hours or more spent getting to Boston, sitting around in South Station waiting for a connection, and then climbing onto another bus that might or might not take me directly to Port Authority. But now all I have to do is wake up at the crack of dawn, convince Tom to drive me 10 minutes to the bus station, and catch an express that goes directly to the city. Total travel time = 6 hours. Amazing.

If you're in the NYC area and interested in attending this Frost Place open house, let me know and I will send you the particulars.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Not long ago the editor-in-chief of a very well known small press contacted me to ask if I would be interested in being considered for a position at the press. Essentially that position was to be his heir apparent, and I'm going to tell you right now that I did not get hired for the job. The press ended up promoting someone from inside, at least in part, I am told, because of growing financial anxiety related to National Endowment for the Arts funding. But I was one of three finalists for a position that I never went out looking for, so that in itself was bracing. Yes, it was kind of like being an unpublished finalist in a poetry contest, but there was nonetheless a certain uplift to the experience, in a not-getting-paid sort of way.

So here I am, still the same old seat-of-her-pants freelancer, tinkering with manuscripts and such. And the temperature is supposed to rise into the 50s, and in a few days I'll be heading to New York City for a Frost Place event, and my doll-house is clean and neat, and the cat is not currently biting me, and the dentist has assured me that I do not need a root canal, and it's opening day for the Red Sox. I'm feeling pretty cheerful. I hope you are too.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Tolstoy as Oracle

This morning, over coffee, I opened my copy of Garnett's translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace, which I have been slowly re-reading for the hundredth time, and immediately fell face-first into the following paragraph:
And not for that hour and day only were the mind and conscience darkened in that man, on whom the burden of all that was being done lay even more heavily than on all the others who took part in it. Never, down to the end of his life, had he the least comprehension of good, of beauty, of truth, of the significance of his own acts, which were too far opposed to truth and goodness, too remote from everything human for him to be able to grasp their significance. He could not disavow his own acts, that were lauded by half the world, and so he was forced to disavow truth and goodness and everything human.
Tolstoy does not include a proper noun in the paragraph, and thus he allows it to function as a generalization in which "that man" could be any number of men, any number of humans. If I substitute "Donald J. Trump" for "that man," the paragraph assumes an ominous topicality . . . ominous because, even in his delineation of evil, Tolstoy allows us to pity this person "on whom the burden of all that was being done lay even more heavily than on all the others who took part in it." And when we pity someone, we make allowances for his evil.

This paragraph disturbs me, in great part, because I naturally want to believe that pity is a humane reaction, an altruism. Yet it, too, is a blinder, and that is a painful truth to face.

If you're familiar with War and Peace, you've probably already guessed that Tolstoy's "that man" is Napoleon. That knowledge adds another level of distaste to my reading of the paragraph. If I can easily substitute the words "Donald J. Trump" for "Napoleon Bonaparte," what does that indicate about the way in which the passage of time and the constructions of history twist our conceptions of hero and leader and nobility and just cause and intelligence and bravery--not to mention our aptitude for pity? I have no love for Napoleon as a historical figure, but neither have I focused on the fact that his behavior was not so different from Trump's.

As advertisement, the label Napoleon bears some equivalence to the neon lights of Trump Tower. Both names continue to blare. And it's terrible to even begin to count the similarities in the urge toward empire.

The amazing part of all this angst and ambiguity is, of course, Tolstoy. How did he know? And how does he manage to keep telling us?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What a nasty first day of April. All night long we endured a variety show of snow rain slush rain snow wind slush wind rain snow, etcetera. You might call it a slopstorm. Now, thanks to the road salt, the sidewalks look like they've been spackled with half-melted shortening mixed with graham-cracker crumbs. The streets are a blackened mess of plow scrape and water. The ocean is hiding under a cloud, and Tom is hiding under the comforter.

Fortunately we have plenty of coffee and bagels, and we don't own a dog we have to walk. Fortunately this apartment is warm, even though the windows are drafty. Fortunately I cooked too many mussels for dinner last night, so we have a lot left over for mussel stew today. In other good news, I went to the dentist on Thursday and learned that I do not need a root canal. What news could be better?

Probably I ought to do some housework, but I don't mind that. I've got a stack of library books to study, and a crossword puzzle book for wasting time. I can play a few games of String with the cat. I can listen to records. If I can override my hatred for my kitchen, I can bake cookies. I can watch the Final Four and text about the games laconically with my son.

I've also got that new poem vibrating in its corner. I could look at it. Or I could leave it alone. Either way will feel like the right thing to do. If I choose to leave it alone, I can keep copying out Carruth's long poem "The Sleeping Beauty." I can keep considering the structure of Komunyakaa's "Autobiography of My Alter Ego."

I was thinking the other day about the difference between boredom and idleness. Idleness is a canoe floating down a placid stream, whereas boredom is a hideous sucking monster. Maybe the difference between the pair is analogous to the difference between melancholy and depression. They seem to be made of the same materials, yet one is a gift and the other is torment.